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Special Issue: Art Intermediation in the United States since 1945: Concepts, Scope, Spaces Edited by Monica Manolescu and Christine Zumello


Monica Manolescu and Christine Zumello

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1This special issue will examine the concept of art intermediation in the United States in the post-World War II period. By art intermediation we mean the study of the confluence between artists, artworks and art projects, in various guises, with spaces, institutions and contexts which do not necessarily originate in the art world. Intermediation is thus a concept that is mobilized to elucidate the ways in which entities which do not initially have a germane interest or “business” with the arts come in contact with artistic forms, use them, sometimes divert them from their course, encase them but are also used, questioned and parodied by artistic representations or practices.

2The articles show that, on the one hand, art can be instrumentalized and become a vehicle to communicate values and goals that companies want to convey to their employees. On the other hand, companies have been building corporate art collections in the United States, a phenomenon that has turned art into an object of financial investment and value creation which is, in itself, another occurrence of intermediation. Artists and their works (painting, photography, sculpture, performance) are at the center of power plays, and have also become witnesses and actors of critical movements against the nature of the contributions and add-ons of creative industries to the economy, in particular since the beginning of the 21st century in the United States.

3The complex relations between art galleries and real estate are also crucial in understanding the entanglements of art and capital, especially in urban contexts. Phenomena of gentrification and disinvestment come to the fore, as well as the perception that communities have of art galleries, the symbolic value of art and its economic influence on neighborhoods.

4Another salient aspect that comes under scrutiny here consists in the growing hybridity of media in the arts since the 1950s, and artists’ imperative to find different spaces of expression. Artists reconsider their relationship with museums and galleries, theorizing a “gallery disturbance concept” (Dennis Oppenheim) and a site/non-site dialectic (Robert Smithson), seeking alternative spaces to create art, be it in urban/suburban locations, in deserts and other marginal spaces. This led the artists to interact with a greater number of public or private entities (public administration, real estate firms, private foundations, construction companies), in addition to galleries and museums. Ecologically-oriented art continues to invest marginalized and degraded spaces, and to resist commodification, but questions the model of expenditure put forth by the monumental earthworks of the 1970s.

5The contributions bring to the fore the non-linearity and the great polysemy of art intermediation using a variety of sources, including unpublished material and archival documents. Art curators, artists, and their works are envisaged within the broader fabric in which they evolve, that shapes them and that they shape in turn: art galleries, financial institutions, corporations, academic projects and disciplines, but also the natural, social and economic environment at large.

6The interview with Robert Mann conducted by Christine Zumello in 2023 sheds light on the personal and professional experience of one of the major art gallerists in the United States specializing in photography. Robert Mann has run a world-famous gallery in New York City since 1985 ( The interview captures various central aspects of his work as curator, gallery owner and discoverer of new talents, for instance his remarkable ability to balance recognized photographers and new photographers, his choices over the years in organizing both solo and thematic exhibitions, the distinctions between color photography and black and white photography, and his relations with the larger fabric of the art world, especially with museums, their photography curators and art fairs. A very interesting point that is touched upon refers to the discovery of lesser-known photographers, sometimes after their death, as was the case with Mann’s discovery of the work of German photographer Elisabeth Hase, whose fascinating story he unravels in the interview. The interview is enlightening, highly informative and also very personal in that it uncovers the trajectory of a major actor of photography intermediation in the US and worldwide, and also his successful strategies in running a prominent photography gallery in New York.

7Christine Zumello’s article addresses the relationship between art and intermediation through an in-depth analysis of the art acquisitions made by the Chase Manhattan bank in New York at the end of the 1950s. The role of Dorothy C. Miller is highlighted as a curator that greatly contributed to the development of the bank’s art collections and promoted abstract art. The research presented here relies on unpublished material from the Dorothy C. Miller archives at the Archives of American art in Washington D.C. These unpublished sources reveal the connections between her vision as curator and the bank’s evolving perspective on architecture, the promotion of art and the role of art within the spaces of the bank. The article sheds light not only on Miller’s role, but also on the relationships between bankers and artists that developed in the wake of her choice of artworks. It thus gives a plural perspective on the actors and agents involved in the process of creating art collections for the bank. These intertwined relationships are contextualized within postwar American society (the rise of consumerism) and the evolution of banking practices (the introduction of the credit card). The connection between New York as financial hub and artistic center is cogently foregrounded. Bank architecture embraced modern forms and art committees were created to introduce art in office spaces and in bank collections, not simply as a decorative element, but as a way of affirming innovation and supporting creativity. The new idea of the corporation that is forged after World War Two also includes a new vision of how art contributes to the shaping of corporate identities.

8Aaron Shkuda’s article entitled “‘Out with the galleries, out with the sellouts’: Arts Organizations and Real Estate Investment in Los Angeles and Detroit” explores the relationship between art and capital in two urban contexts, in particular the ways in which art brings capital into a neighborhood. Two recent case studies are presented: activists in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood who targeted art galleries in protest over the gentrification of the area, and an organization in Detroit, The Heidelberg Project, created by artist Tyree Guyton on the predominantly African American east side of Detroit, which was praised for the way it brought investment into a disinvested area of the city. The difference between the two case studies has to do, in part, with the distinct property markets in the two cities (Los Angeles as a hyper-gentrified city vs. Detroit having localized gentrification and being confronted to disinvestment more than gentrification). The duration of the conversation about these projects in these communities has also had an impact. The symbolic perception of the art galleries in the two cities has been divergent, with Boyle Heights protesters associating art and development with the privileges of whiteness, and The Heidelberg Project having catalyzed a successful conversation about the role of arts in urban development. The paper argues that although art is often a metonym for capital, it is important to examine the nuanced and precise relationships between art and real estate investment in order to grasp the specificities of given contexts.

9In her article entitled “Art, Performance, and Outsourcing in Corporate Art Commissioning: An American Scenario,” Charlotte Gould examines the widespread phenomenon of the corporate sponsorship of contemporary art. The article analyzes specific examples of the relationship between art and business, and discusses more generally the valorization of art and culture as major economic players, along with the notion of “creativity,” which is thus shifted to support market-driven ideologies. There is a double movement at play, according to which art became a creative industry at the turn of the century and industry became ever more creative, seeking artists to provide their useful services. The analysis of several “artist-in-residence” programs that capitalize on the skills identified in the art world reveals the companies’ discourse about artists’ creativity purportedly enhancing workers’ innovative skills and production abilities, on the one hand, and also the public criticism faced by companies when artists in residence revealed highly unethical and contested projects (the Amazon “worker cage”). Artists have also acted as observers, trainees, employees or “infiltrated agents” within the framework of “the art of management,” considered to bring unsettling inspiration to companies through interaction. The ambiguous collusion of participatory performance art and work performance provides an insight into artists’ attitudes of resistance and critique, and also the ways in which companies respond and accommodate them. Gould projects this discussion against the background of post-Fordist American capitalism after World War II and couples it with the emergence of performance art, recuperated by the world of business.

10Monica Manolescu’s article (“Proposals for change”: Art, Ecology and Intermediation in Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison’s The Lagoon Cycle, Breathing Space for the Sava River and Endangered Meadows of Europe”) delves into the forms of intermediation that arise from art projects that resist commodification and that assert the far-reaching and ambitious ecological objective of producing change by focusing on disrupted ecosystems. American artists Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (1932-2022), pioneers of “ecological art” (as they called it) first developed an interest in land art in the 1970s and then adopted a decisively ecological discourse and practice. Three case studies are discussed: The Lagoon Cycle (1973-1984, based in Sri Lanka and the United States), Breathing Space for the Sava River (1989-1990, in the former Yugoslavia) and Endangered Meadows of Europe (1996, in Bonn). The article starts by briefly presenting the funding and processes of construction of three iconic land art works made in the American desert: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973-1976) and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field (1977). These works that played on the tension between the gallery and the site-specific sculpture or installation imposed new modes of intermediation, that involved funding from galleries and foundations, but also a diversified kind of labor and collaboration. The Harrisons’ work starts from this disturbance of the isolation of the gallery to grant collaborative work the status of a continued conversation, which becomes the dominant mode of their art. Various forms of funding, dialogue and cooperation with museum, academic and administrative institutions, businesses and associations come to the fore (with the added contribution of plant seeds in a revisited understanding of intermediation in the final example), in the attempt to give their “proposals for change” a certain impact and to attempt a larger dissemination.

11David Reckford’s article “Having Your Cake: Caricaturing the Business Organization in 20th-century and Contemporary Art and Poetry” considers the world of business as prominent trope in a series of 20th century literary and artistic examples. Starting from specific works and from artists’ statements, the article traces various forms of conversation and intersection between art and business, from Marianne Moore to Jeff Koons. The various examples show contradictory or ambivalent attitudes ranging from sharp criticism to a parodic alignment with business discourses. Caricature becomes a mode of representing business by isolating and magnifying certain features. A discontinuous genealogy of representing business is projected, with examples taken from modernist poetry, the readymades, Pop Art, the New York School (especially John Ashbery’s poetry) and more generally artists inspired by mass culture like Jeff Koons. The co-opting of art by business is also examined. Ashbery’s covert, subtle references to business and the rhetoric of advertising contrast with manifest, head-on appropriations and repetitions by Pop artists. The article does not provide an unequivocal interpretation of these examples, but rather invites close analysis of individual case studies, each revealing its own distinct approach.

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Electronic reference

Monica Manolescu and Christine Zumello, IntroductionEuropean journal of American studies [Online], 18-2 | 2023, Online since 03 July 2023, connection on 20 April 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Monica Manolescu

Monica Manolescu is Professor of American literature at the University of Strasbourg and a junior member of the Institut Universitaire de France. She has been a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, an honorary research fellow at the University of Kent and a visiting professor at the ICU Tokyo. Her most recent book is Cartographies of New York and Other Postwar American Cities. Art, Literature and Urban Spaces (Palgrave, 2018). 

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Christine Zumello

Christine Zumello is a Professor of American studies and business history at Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. Her research and publications focus on the interactions between politics, finance and the arts. She has conducted extensive explorations in both public and private archives and she tries to tap the formidable creativity of archival documents and spaces.

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